Eat Brains Love (2019)

Eat Brains Love first published by SciFiNow

Rodman Flender’s Eat Brains Love belongs to a subcategory of what has become known as the ‘rom zom com’. This subgenre term – if not quite the concept – originated from the marketing for Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004), even if the romance in that film’s zombie apocalypse was strictly between the living (while the bromance does eventually survive zombification). So oversaturated is the zombie movie market, though, that even the more rarefied niche of rom zom coms that feature romance between the living and the undead comes surprisingly well represented. There is Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), My Boyfriend’s Back (1993) and Dellamorte Dellamore (1994), there is Boy Eats Girl (2005), Fido (2006), and Warm Bodies (2013), and there is  Burying the Ex (2014), Life After Beth (2014) and to a degree It Stains The Sands Red (2016) – all exploring a love that transcends the normally fixed borders between life and death, and all flirting with a kind of romance that is not only taboo (as a species of necrophilia), but also potentially very dangerous to the living participant. Getting up close and personal with a conventional zombie simply cannot end well for a human would-be Romeo or Juliet, and so any undead entangled in such a romance cannot just be the run-(or shuffle-)of-the-mill variety. Fortunately the zombie genre, like love itself, knows no rules. 

High school loser Jake Stephens (Jake Cannavale) has long admired head cheerleader Amanda Blake (Angelique Riviera) from afar, only to find himself on the run with her after both devour their friends in the school cafeteria. They have been afflicted with a zombie virus which is transmitted sexually rather than through bites, and which comes on like a case of herpes, alternating between irresistible waves of hunger for flesh and periods of remission and relative normality. Having chowed down on their fellow pupils, they are now being hunted by shadowy government agency the Necrotic Control Division which employs people with psychic powers to track down zombies. But no sooner has teen NCD agent Cass (Sarah Yarkin) formed a psychic connection with Jake than she also feels an intense attraction towards him. 

This is just one of several elements that ensure Eat Brains Love, adapted by Mike Herro and David Strauss (TV’s One Tree Hill) from Jeff Hart’s 2013 YA novel, remains generically unstable. For it is a teen comedy and a zombie film (of sorts), but also a bizarre love triangle and a Badlands-style road movie. With his heightened strength and powers of regeneration, Jake sees himself as a superhero, but when Amanda points out that “Superheroes don’t eat their friends”, Jake is happy to settle for identifying as a “zombie vigilante” (who feeds on child rapists). Identity is key here, as the film focuses on boundary-testing kids in their formative years – as well as happy lesbian zombies Grace (Kristin Daniel) and Kym Jacskon (Summer) – trying to deal with their emerging appetites and to find their place and way in a hostile world, even as adult authorities – like the paedophiles that they encounter in their travels or psych(ot)ic NCD chief Alistair (Patrick Fabian, The Last Exorcism, 2010) – regard young people as mere objects to be entrapped, exploited and enslaved. 

There is some satire here. The zombie outbreak at the, heh, Dick Cheney High School is covered up as a school shooting so as to avoid causing a mass panic (as Cass comments, “just another Monday in America”), and Jake refers to the national sex offender registry as “like Yelp for zombies.” For the most part, though, Eat Brains Love offers goofy gags and adolescent antics whose strongly transgressive streak is only a horror-inflected hyperbole of what might be found in any teen flick. 

© Anton Bitel